After shelving climate change legislation last week in the face of a wall of Republican and oil industry opposition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on July 27 presented a new limited energy bill that includes no curbs on carbon and other global warming emissions. But Republicans, and some Democrats, don't like this bill either.
The new bill, the Clean Energy Jobs and Oil Company Accountability Act, S 3663, would require oil companies to fully pay for oil spill damage, provide incentives for home energy efficiency and electric and natural-gas powered vehicles, and fund land and water conservation and cleanup.
Reid hopes to open Senate debate on the bill on Monday, and hold a test vote on closing debate on Wednesday. But even this stripped down energy bill is facing opposition from Republicans and some Democrats, and could fall short of the 60 votes needed to end debate and move to action on the bill.
Michael Brune, the Sierra Club's executive director, called it "imperative" that the Senate pass the bill before its August recess, to promote investment in energy efficiency and to "hold BP and future polluters fully responsible for the cost of damage and clean-up of their environmental disasters."
But if it fails the cloture vote, Reid is expected to set the bill aside to allow consideration of Elena Kagan's Supreme Court nomination before the Senate recess, The Hill reports.
The House begins debate on the bill today. (Aug. 2 update: The House passed the bill on Friday, 209-193, after Gulf Coast Democrats won an amendment ending the federal moratorium on deepwater drilling for oil companies that met new safety requirements.)
According to The Hill, Republicans and oil-state Democrats "particularly object" to language that would remove the current liability cap for oil and gas companies, not only for future spills but also retroactively to cover BP's role in the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Right now, under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, enacted after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off the coast of Alaska, a company's liability to pay for economic damage caused by oil spills is capped at $75 million.
Reid's bill also beefs up regulation of the oil industry's response to spills.
In the House, along with Republican opposition about 30 oil-state Democrats are said to oppose removal of the liability cap.
One compromise being discussed involves setting up a cleanup fund that all companies would contribute to, or a fund just for smaller companies. Other possible compromises include lifting the liability cap retroactively to apply to BP's Gulf disaster but keeping the cap for the future, or raising the cap but not eliminating it entirely.
Brune warned that efforts to weaken the bill involve alternatives that are "nothing but a love letter to the oil industry."
Other progressive activists said congressional Democrats have to take a much stronger approach on green energy and climate change. They complained that the shelved climate bill, known as the Kerry-Lieberman bill for its key sponsors, Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., had too many giveaways to the oil, coal and nuclear industries.
Ilyse Hogue, MoveOn.org's political advocacy and communications director, called the Kerry-Lieberman bill "a corporate bill" that "couldn't pass because the base wasn't ever fired up about it from the start."
"The enthusiasm gap was due to the Democrats beginning negotiations with a series of giveaways to corporate interests in an attempt to appease Blue Dogs," she told The Hill.
Brune praised Reid's new bill for taking a step toward reducing oil consumption and carbon pollution by providing incentives for electric vehicles and natural gas-powered trucks. The bill's Home Star program, which would provide rebates for homeowners for purchasing energy-saving fittings for their homes, will also create tens of thousands of badly needed jobs, he said.
The bill restructures the Interior Department and its Department of Ocean Energy, which gained notoriety under its previous name - the Minerals Management Service. The restructuring aims to ensure that the agency actually does its job of regulating the oil and gas industry, instead of partying with the industry as it did under the Bush administration.
The bill would also fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund for the next five years.
Brune said the Sierra Club also supports the Consolidated Land, Energy, and Aquatic Resources (CLEAR) Act, HR 3534, which would impose strict requirements on the oil industry to prevent oil well blowouts like BP's Deepwater Horizon catastrophe.
But these bills, Brune said, "are not a substitute for a bold and comprehensive plan to increase the supply of clean energy and to break America's oil addiction."
Similarly, David Foster, executive director of the labor-environmental BlueGreen Alliance, said his members "appreciate the efforts of Majority Leader Reid and Senate Democrats to pass legislation that addresses the issues brought to attention by the spill in the Gulf of Mexico and that includes the Home Star program, which will create good jobs and produce energy savings."
But, Foster warned, "America needs serious action on clean energy, or we risk losing millions of clean energy jobs to our foreign competitors."
He called for the Senate to pass "comprehensive legislation - including an economy-wide cap on emissions, a federal Renewable Electricity Standard, strong efficiency measures, transportation investments, and worker training - that will position the United States to create and preserve millions of jobs building the clean energy economy."
Photo: A demonstration in New Orleans in May protests BP's "oil flood" polluting the Gulf of Mexico. http://www.flickr.com/photos/infrogmation/4658845796/ cc 2.0